What is the context within which the novel When Rain Clouds Gather written?

The context in which this novel was written is political and historical. At the time when Bessie Head wrote When Rain Clouds Gather, she was a refugee from apartheid, the formal system of racial segregation that then existed in South Africa. The story's protagonist Makhaya Maseko is himself a refugee and, like Bessie Head, seeks a better life for himself over the border in Botswana.

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Bessie Head was a refugee from apartheid in South Africa. As a black African, she was denied basic rights by the white minority government, which had, for decades, pursued a policy of systemic racism and segregation. Like a number of other Black South Africans, Head sought to escape the horrors of apartheid by seeking sanctuary across the border in Botswana, which would achieve independence two years after Head moved there.

Head's experiences form the basis of much of the action in When Rain Clouds Gather. The book's protagonist, Makhaya Maseko, is himself a Black South African refugee living in Botswana. Like the author, he seeks to build a new life for himself in another country. The emphasis throughout the story is on love, developing personal relationships, and finding common humanity. Some have criticized this emphasis, accusing Head of ignoring the political dimension of the refugee experience.

Yet in Head's defense, one could say that her critics' conception of politics is somewhat narrow, ignoring the obvious point that the personal is very much the political, especially when it comes to the issue of refugees. In highlighting the plight of refugees, based on her own experience, Head is indeed making a political statement. Though it may not be as explicit as some of her critics would like, it's still a recognizably political statement all the same.

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